March 29, 2013 2:52 pm
Updated: March 30, 2013 6:48 am

Former premier Ralph Klein dies after long illness

CALGARY- A legendary figure in Alberta politics has passed away.

Former premier and Calgary mayor Ralph Klein passed away on Friday at the age of 70. Alberta Health Services says he was surrounded by family and close friends at the time of his death.

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“My beloved husband Ralph has slipped away after 42 years of marriage, and 70 years of life,” said his wife Colleen in a statement. “In his public life, while many will now debate what he stood for, he himself simply believed that public service was important, that it need not be complicated, and that it revolved around people.

“In his private life, his greatest gift to his family was that when the long work days were over, and he came home, it was his sanctuary, and the politics stopped at the door.

“If the public will love him for all the things he did for them, his family will forever love him for all the things he meant to us.”

Known as ‘King Ralph’ to some, his storied political career began in 1980 when the former political reporter was elected as mayor of Calgary, in what even he called an ‘immense surprise.’

During his reign, Calgary’s economy was booming and he infamously used the phrase “creeps and bums” to describe the influx of eastern Canadians pouring into the city and straining its coffers.

He was also at the helm as Calgary welcomed the world to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.

A year later he moved on to provincial politics. Klein was elected as an MLA and named environment minister, eventually winning the Progressive Conservative leadership after former premier Don Getty resigned.

Despite being considered an underdog, Klein beat out the Liberals to win the 1993 election and became premier.

He got to work quickly, instituting a program of massive cuts to deal with a spending crisis, including ordering the implosion of Calgary’s General Hospital.

Despite huge public backlash, Klein eliminated nearly $23 billion dollars of debt and put Alberta on a new road to prosperity.

He was re-elected as premier in 1997 and 2001, but shortly after announcing his eventual plans to step down the PCs decided it was time for new blood, handing him the lowest approval rating of his career.

Klein resigned in 2006.

He was last seen publicly in June 2011 at the dedication of a southeast Calgary park that bears his name. He was mostly silent, dealing with chronic emphysema that had evolved into a rare form of dementia.

Klein had to be hospitalized after a fall in October 2011. He spent his remaining days in a long-term care facility.

Klein was appointed to the Order of Canada in June 2012, and while he couldn’t accept the honour in person, his family issued a statement about his reaction, saying “while words are difficult, his face brightened, and he smiled.”

Details for a memorial service have not yet been announced, but at the request of the family no state funeral will be held. The City of Calgary has been asked by the Kleins to take the lead on funeral arrangements.

An online condolence book has been set up for those wishing to send their sympathies to the Klein family, and you can also do so by leaving a comment at the bottom of our online condolence page.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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